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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" 
Subject: RE: (urth) Loyal to the Group of Seventeen
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 14:17:10 -0700

Hartshorn writes...

> Interesting thought.   The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has a long 
> pedigree in SF (cf Vance THE LANGUAGES OF PAO) but is almost
> certinly untrue.

I think "too strong" is probably more accurate than "untrue." Language,
along with other mental structures, does pretty clearly _guide_ the 
way we think about things. It doesn't have the property of absolute 
constraint/restraing that Sapir-Whorf suggests.

One of the reasons Sapir-Whorf (whether or not named as such) has
so strong a pedigree in SF is doubtless its strongest instantiation,
the study of General Semantics, founded by Count Alfred Korzybski, 
which essentially claims that most if not all "mental" problems stem 
from the use of "language" that does not correspond to "reality." (I 
place those words in quotes because in g-s they have special technical
meanings.) General semantics has (to a greater or lesser extent) 
influenced a large number of SF writers directly, including van Vogt, 
Heinlein, and Delany; it seems likely enough that it also influences
others indirectly through these.

> In fact we now know that children bought up in a civilisation 
> that spoke only in these tags would spontaneously Creolise the
> language, generating a real language with a built in grammar from
> it.

H'mmm. I think to say "we know" is, again, a bit too strong: "we 
have strong reason to believe," yes. Some popularizers (Pinker comes 
readily to mind) have a tendency to state these things as firm and
established fact, when we're dealing in an area where experimentation
is nearly impossible and field data is always already tainted by
interaction with other cultures.

> At what time did Chomskyan ideas about language - intrinsic, built-in
> metagrammar - become standard?    Did Wolfe know?

I don't know if they are "standard," but they are certainly influential
and taught in most linguistics curricula. I think the whole "deep
grammar" idea is still somewhat controversial, despite the claims of,
once again, Pinker that the whole thing is settled.


Burro: An ass. Burrow: A hole in the ground. Be sure you know the


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